Gavel Grab

JAS: Report Supports a Perception of 'Justice for Sale'

A recent report by the American Constitution Society (ACS) about business group donations to judicial campaigns supports a perception that “justice is for sale,” Liz Seaton, Justice at Stake’s acting executive director, wrote in a commentary for the ACS blog.

The report, “Justice at Risk,” documented a correlation between donations by business groups to judicial campaigns and state supreme court justices voting in favor of business interests (see Gavel Grab). Seaton called the questions raised by the report “familiar, and … troubling.” She elaborated:

“While the report stops short of deciding ‘[w]hether the campaign contributions determine which judges are on the bench or they influence how the judges on the bench decide cases – or both,’ it  underscores that ‘the rising tide of campaign contributions from interest groups is placing fair and impartial justice at risk.’ Justice at Stake agrees. This study shows that the public is right to be concerned, and vigilant.”

“Today, the ‘Justice at Risk’ report has fresh facts that unfortunately tend to support  a popular perception that ‘justice is for sale’ in one important context, that of business cases in state courts.  When it comes to enacting reforms to protect fair and impartial courts, the report helps build a stronger case.”

The study examined business-related state supreme court cases between 2010 and 2012. Among its key findings was the following: “The more campaign contributions from business interests justices receive, the more likely they are to vote for business litigants appearing before them in court.”

The report also said the correlation was identified “only in partisan and nonpartisan systems; there is no statistically significant relationship between money and voting in retention election systems,” when a justice stands in a yes-or-no election with no opponent.

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